A superb Android phone that hits hard across the board
Weight: 201g Dimensions: 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8mm OS: Android 8.1 Screen size: 6.4-inches Resolution: 1440 x 2960 pixels CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 RAM: 6GB Storage: 128GB Battery: 4000mAh Rear cameras: 12 MP f/1.5-2.4 + 12MP f/2.4 Front camera: 8 MP f/1.7
REASONS TO BUY
+6.4-inch Super AMOLED screen is stunning
+New S Pen digital stylus works superbly
REASONS TO AVOID
-4,000mAh battery is only competitive, not standout-Bixby AI assistant is still definitely a work in progress
With its absolutely stunning 6.4-inch Super AMOLED screen, powerful internal hardware suite, and advanced new S Pen digital stylus, the Note 9 is one of the absolute best Android phones available today and, simply put, delivers across the board.
Indeed, when you factor in the phone’s excellent camera system, competitive battery, and audiophile audio credentials, you realise that this isn’t just a work-focused productivity powerhouse, but a do-anything powerhouse.
What we see here are spec bumps, some more impressive than others. For one, it was about time a big-name top-end phone shipped with 128GB of base storage, and isn’t the optional 512GB just plain overkill? With a card slot ready to offer an extra 512GB (a card that Samsung is yet to announce, and you’re unlikely to be thrilled about the price, but still) you’re looking at a potential 1TB of storage on your Note9.
Battery capacity is a generous 4,000mAh flat, some 20% more than the outgoing model and 500mAh than the Galaxy S9+ – you can say we’re liking where the added 0.2mm of thickness went.
The 6.4-inch display is now a whopping 0.2 inches larger than the current plus-size S-series model, as opposed to just 0.1 inches last year making for some slightly more meaningful segmentation in the lineup.
But in all fairness, all the segmentation you need comes with the S Pen, and it’s a conceptually upgraded unit even if it does look just like the old one. This one is active and can interact with the phone from a distance via Bluetooth – think remote shutter release or a presentation remote, you get the drift. Of course, once you hover it over the display, it’s still the good old stylus that makes the Note a unique proposition.
The rest is, more or less, a Galaxy S9+, indeed. No real surprises in the camera section where we see the familiar dual aperture main module, accompanied by a telephoto shooter (a seemingly different 1/3.4″ vs. 1/3.6″ sensor, what’s that about?), and an 8MP selfie cam. All the connectivity you could ask for is also present, headphone jack included, and it’s the first Galaxy Note smartphone with stereo speakers.
Samsung Galaxy Note9 specs
- Body: Aluminum frame, Gorilla Glass 5 front and back; IP68 certified for water and dust resistance. 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm, 201g. Midnight Black, Ocean Blue, Metallic Copper, Lavender Purple color schemes.
- Display: 6.4″ Super AMOLED ‘Infinity Display’, 2,960x1440px resolution, 18.5:9 (2.06:1) aspect ratio, 516ppi; HDR10 compliant (no Dolby Vision).
- Rear camera: Primary 12MP, Type 1/2.55″ sensor, f/1.5-2.4 aperture, 26mm equiv. focal length, dual pixel PDAF, OIS; Secondary 12MP, Type 1/3.4″ sensor, f/2.4 aperture, 52mm equiv. focal length, autofocus, OIS; 2x zoom. 2160p/60fps, 1080p/240fps slow motion, 720p/960fps super slow-motion video recording.
- Front camera: 8MP, f/1.7 aperture, autofocus; 1440p/30fps video recording.
- OS/Software: Android 8.1 Oreo; Samsung Experience 9.0; Bixby virtual assistant; Smart Connect, Smart Connect Home.
- Chipsets: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845: octa-core CPU (4×2.7GHz Kryo 385 Gold & 4×1.7GHz Kryo 385 Silver), Adreno 630 GPU. Exynos 9810: octa-core CPU (4x3rd-gen Mongoose 2.7GHz + 4xCortex-A55 1.8GHz), Mali-G72 MP18 GPU.
- Memory: 6/8GB of RAM; 128/512GB of storage; microSD slot for cards up to 512GB.
- Battery: 4,000mAh Li-Po (sealed); Adaptive Fast Charging (same as S7/S8/S9); QuickCharge 2.0 support; WPC(Qi)&PMA wireless charging.
- Connectivity: Single-SIM, Dual-SIM available in certain markets (hybrid slot); LTE-A, 4-Band/5-Band carrier aggregation, Cat.18 (1.2Gbps/150Mbps); USB Type-C (v3.1); Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac MU-MIMO; GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo; NFC; Bluetooth 5.0.
- Misc: Bluetooth-enabled S Pen stylus with 4096 pressure levels and multimedia controls; fingerprint/iris/face recognition; stereo speakers tuned by AKG; 3.5mm jack; bundled AKG headphones; DeX dock compatibility.
If you’re going to be upgrading from a Pixel 2 XL to a Note9, you’d be downgrading the Android version – the Note9 comes with 8.1 Oreo, though a Pie is surely in the making. As Qualcomm QuickCharges go, the Note9’s 2.0 is pretty dated too – another non-dealbreaker, but a point worth mentioning. And… that seems to be all we can think of to complain about before ripping that box open.
Samsung Galaxy Note9 unboxing
Surprise, surprise – no surprises in here. You’d be getting the same Adaptive Fast Charging AC adapter, that’s been around since S5 days (9V/1.67A and 5V/2A) and a USB cable to go with it. There’s a couple of USB-C adapters (Type A and micro-B on the far ends), too.
An AKG-branded headset with some nice braided cables is included to get you started. This being a Note, there are also replacement tips for the S Pen and a tool to get the job done.
Design and 360-degree spin
It’s not universally pretty, the Galaxy Note9. There’s simply too much stuff that needs to fit on the back and there’s hardly a good-looking way to do it.
The Note8 looked half-reasonable, but certainly didn’t get it remotely right in terms of usability with its off-axis fingerprint reader – a pain point Samsung addressed on the Galaxy S9+, with a vertical camera arrangement and a fingerprint reader below it.
It’s a different layout on the Note9 – the side-by-side cameras are back, flash LED and heart-rate sensor to their right, fingerprint sensor along the central axis under the cameras. Why not the same as on the S9+? The S Pen silo takes up space on the side, the battery can’t be as wide and needs to be taller than in the S9+, hence it pushes the sensor higher. Or at least that’s how we reason it.
There’s two things we find wrong here, to varying degrees. Okay, maybe not wrong, but less than ideal. Number one, the main camera is ever so slightly offset from the central axis – by about a millimeter, but it’s visible and will irk a particular type of person (a bunch of them here at GSMArena HQ). We get that Samsung aimed to center the camera/flash/sensor window, and placing the elements within it came secondary, but still.
Then there’s the fingerprint reader position once again. This could be us overanalyzing it (it’s happened before), but it still feels a bit too high. As in, not Note8 high and uncomfortable, but still inconvenient. You do get used to it, and the fact that you’re stretching up and approaching it from below, means you’re likely to feel it and unlock the phone before actually touching and smudging the camera.
But since we have to (collectively) be that guy – it’s also the primary camera that’s in immediate proximity to the sensor instead of the supposedly less frequently used telephoto one, like it’s on the S9+. It’s always a good idea to wipe your lenses clean before a critical shot, is what we’re saying.
Over on the front, the 6.4-inch Super AMOLED takes center stage, now even more than before. The chin is noticeably slimmer, the forehead is perhaps identical to the Note8’s and in effect the phone is physically shorter despite the minor increase in display diagonal.
The top bezel still houses the entire array of sensors and lights and more pedestrian stuff – and like the S9+ does it in a somewhat more concealed manner than the S8/Note8. There’s no hiding the earpiece – it’s dead center and also doubles as a speaker. To its right is the selfie camera, the actual one for taking photos, and next to it – the iris scanner.
To the left of the earpiece are the proximity and ambient light sensors, followed by the IR illuminator, and an RGB status LED. So no, AlwaysOn displays don’t render status LEDs redundant, and we’re happy Samsung’s with us on this one. One LED that’s missing is a flash – there are mid-range Galaxies with front-facing flashes, but no flagships. Or is that a 6.4-inch AMOLED flash in disguise?
6.4-inch Super AMOLED in the hand • …and on the table • An array of sensors above it
The sides of that… um… flash are a hair thicker, and with the panel being marginally wider too, the Note9 is slightly wider than the old model. We’re talking 1.6mm wider.
The aluminum frame has a sturdier and more technical look and feel than both the Note8 and the S9+’s, accented by chamfers front and back. The Note8’s polished finish was already gone on the S9, and the Note9’s frame is matte as well, with the chamfers slightly shinier. Out went the calipers, and we read 3.5mm on the side of the Note9 and 3.0mm on the Note8, so the increase in thickness is not just subjective.
The Power button is on the right side of the frame, directly opposite the gap between the Bixby button (below) and the volume rocker on the left.
The first few attempts at taking a screenshot (power+volume down key combo) will likely result in summoning Bixby unless you’re coming from another recent high-end Galaxy. You will eventually learn that lesson. For what it’s worth, all the buttons click precisely and have good travel.
Samsung’s insistence to force Bixby’s presence upon you by fitting a hardware key that can’t be set to do anything else still perplexes us. That seems to be the general consensus, yet we’re not sure it really matters – will you not buy a Galaxy specifically because of the Bixby button?
Anyway, the card slot is located on the top of the phone, and our dual SIM variant takes two nano SIMs, or a nano SIM and a microSD card. Towards the other end of the top plate there’s a pin hole for a secondary mic.
The primary mic is on the bottom, to the right of the USB-C port. Further to the right is the loudspeaker, while the 3.5mm jack is on the left.
Volume rocker and Bixby on the right • Dual SIM slot with hybrid action • S Pen in the bottom right
The S Pen. It’s got the clicky mechanism on its tail end that Samsung introduced with the Note5, and, aside from a slightly smaller button on the side, looks and feels very much the same as the one on the Note8. And the Note7 before it. And the Note5.
It’s quite a bit more useful, though. Packing a supercapacitor inside, it can power a Bluetooth module to connect to the phone, which lets it perform as a remote.
The most obvious use case is taking photos and videos with the phone across the room, but it could also come in handy, for example, if you’re doing a presentation straight out of your phone. Or scroll through the gallery, or play/pause/skip media, or whatever app devs come up with later on.
Three actions are recognized – long press, single press, and double press, and they can be configured to do different things. So far, the long press can only be used to launch a particular app (camera is the default), while the other two actions are available inside apps.
The capacitor charges in a matter of 40 seconds inside the phone, and should be good for about 30mins or 200 clicks – sounds plenty. When the power does run out, there’s nothing stopping the active S Pen from being just a passive S Pen, though with that recharge time you’d be up and running in… well… seconds.
The S Pen, as the one on the Note8, is IP68 certified, just as the entire phone itself for that matter. You could say we’re already taking that for granted.
Samsung Experience 9.5 on top of Android 8.1 Oreo
The Galaxy Note9 runs Samsung Experience 9.5 over Android 8.1 Oreo. You’d then be getting 0.5 units newer experience than on the S9 and S9+ which are at 9.0, and a marginally newer version of the OS too (8.0 on the S9s). While it would undoubtedly have been great for the Note9 to launch on Android Pie, seeing as how the new OS version is already out, only the most naive would have expected that to happen. We like to think we aren’t.
Since this a Note, let’s go ahead and start with the S Pen. With the stylus now active, there’s a bunch of new stuff you can do with it. The menu option is called S Pen remote, and that’s where you can go to assign the long press action to launch an app, and to specify what the single and the double press will do inside that app and other apps. As it is, the long press can only be set to launch an app and not control anything inside one.
The default is long press to launch camera, single press to take a photo, and double press to switch between cameras. Within the Gallery a single press advances to the next item, the double press goes back, and the same logic applies in Powerpoint. In the music player, a press is play/pause, double press skips a song. It does work in Google Play Music and Spotify, even though they don’t show up in the S Pen remote menu.
S Pen remote
As before, if you just pull out the S Pen from its housing (without waking up the phone from standby), you can go right ahead and write a note, which you can then pin to the always on display or just save. There’s an option in setting to ‘Use S Pen signature color’ – meaning you’d be writing in yellow on the Ocean Blue Note9, purple-ish on the Lavender Purple, and copper? on the Metallic Copper version.
Screen off memo
Samsung Notes is your go-to place for scribbling stuff. Your notes are listed chronologically, but you can also categorize them (by default there’s a category for the screen-off memos), and you can see an expanded preview if you hover over a note with the S Pen (that’s part of Air view, which needs to be enabled in settings). Each note can contain typed text, written text, doodles, images and voice recordings.
It’s one of many ways to use the S Pen, though. When you pull out the stylus with the phone unlocked, the Air command menu appears (though that’s a setting that can be turned off, or set to create a note straight away). You can have up to 10 shortcuts there, and those can be either S-Pen features or shortcuts to apps. You can’t just put a contact there, that’s for the Edge panels, though it’s hardly practical to pull out the S Pen to call someone.
Samsung Notes • Air command
Advanced screenshot capture is one of the areas where the S Pen shines. Smart select allows you to take differently shaped screenshots, extract text from them, or pin them on the screen. Alternatively, you can create short GIF animations. Then there’s Screen write that takes a fullscreen snap that you can write on with the full set of different pens and brushes (and then crop, if you will).
Screenshots are the S Pen’s forte
Live message was introduced on the Note8 and is here on the Note9 as well. You can record a GIF animation of your act of drawing, so that the other party can feel extra special by watching the message unravel before their eyes. Penup was pre-installed on the Note8, but it’s missing in our build of the Note9’s software. It offers a coloring book with a ton of drawing outlines for you to fill in and share (or not). If you’re a better artist than that, you can go ahead and draw your artwork and share it on the Penup network. The app is still available in the Play Store.
There’s a magnifier tool with a number of different magnification ratios. Meanwhile, Glance lets you have a tiny thumb of an app on the bottom of the screen, which you hover to evoke the full-size app. Translate does just what it says on the tin – it uses Google translate to give you quick translations when you point at a word. There’s a toggle that switches between single-word translations and translating a block of text.
Magnify • Glance • Translate single word • Expand to Google Translate • Translate selection
There’s also Bixby vision for the S Pen. You point at an object on the screen, and Bixby does its magic of selecting what it thinks you’re trying to select and then gives you the option to either look for similar images or do actions with the text if there is any.
There are numerous other smaller use cases for the S-Pen. For, example, you can hover over an image in the gallery for an enlarged preview, or over a calendar entry for more details. You can also scroll up and down by hovering the S-Pen over the edge of the screen.
Also, if you prefer writing input for form filling, you can set up a tooltip to appear when you hover above a field. Tap on that, and you’ll go into writing mode.
Preview on hover • Same in the calendar • Hover scroll • Direct pen input
Set the S Pen aside, and the Note9’s software is almost entirely identical to what you can find on the S9+, complete with the reworked menu structure we weren’t strictly fond of (still aren’t, just gotten used to it).
The AOD and its clock styles are in separate places, mainly because you can have clock styles for the lockscreen as well as the AOD itself. All the new designs from the S9+ are here too.
AOD settings • Lockscreen settings • Clocks styles are here
The lockscreen has the normal camera and dialler shortcuts (which you can reassign to any app), but in our experience, the lockscreen gets ignored altogether. The biometric unlock options (fingerprint unlock, or face, or iris, or the new Intelligent combination of all of those) are just too quick to get you to the homescreen.
Enrolling a fingerprint can be done in a single swipe, though you can tap if that’s your thing. Unlocking is pretty fast, but, as usual, Samsungs aren’t record-holders for speed. Iris unlock is better than both face and Intelligent for the more privacy-conscious as Intelligent will work with your eyes closed – when it can’t find irises it looks for a whole mug.
You can, of course, have fingerprints enabled too, with either face, iris, or Intelligent Scan on at the same time. PIN, password, and pattern are also options, and you’ll need one of them as a backup for the biometrics anyway. A simple swipe is there for those that just don’t care.
Swipe to enroll • All types of locks • Intelligent scan
Experience v.9 builds on v.8’s iconography with a new color for the Messages app, and a gradient for the Gallery icon, and that’s about it on the surface. Folders still open fullscreen sending the apps up and away from immediate reach – some wouldn’t even notice, but if you’re coming from a Pixel, it’s a bit of an annoyance.
Homescreen • App drawer • …or no app drawer • Landscape view
The notification shade hasn’t changed either and the task switcher has the list view option, potentially saving yourself some scrolling if you like to keep a ton of apps open.
Notifications • Toggles • Toggle grid options • Task switcher: Thumbnail view • List view
Samsung’s multi-window implementation has long been the best on the market (we remember the times it was the only one on the market). You can resize the windows to just about any ratio, you can swap them, and you can even have pop-up apps on top of the two ones that are in multi-window. Snap window is also available – you crop a small strip of an app, cutting away unneeded interface elements, and have it docked to the top or bottom of the display so you can have it always visible.
App pairs are here too in case you often use two specific apps together in a split screen view.
Split-screen multi-window • Pop-up view • Snap window • Multi-window in landscape
Edge panels, of course, are too as well – a set of panes slides in from the side with shortcuts to contacts, apps, tasks, tools or whatnot. Perhaps someone somewhere uses them. For that person, there’s now even a task switcher of sorts – for the edge panels.
Edge lighting has gotten a redesigned interface for customizations – color, width, transparency, plus a couple of effects have been added. You could do most of it on the S8 too, but it was a little more obscure.
Edge panels • Edge lighting
A bunch of familiar gestures and the likes are available just as on the S9 and S9+. To name a few, you can swipe the fingerprint reader to access the notification shade (was there on the S8, but with that fingerprint placement – no thanks), you can go into a shrunken-down one-handed more (either triple press home, or swipe in from a bottom corner), and you can launch the camera with a double press of the power button. Meanwhile, Smart Stay will use the front camera to determine whether you’re looking at the phone so it won’t go to standby if you’re staring blankly at the screen for a long time. All of these can be switched off.
Notification access from the back • One-handed mode • Smart stay
The set of standard Samsung features present on the Note9 includes Secure Folder. It’s where you can keep files, memos, and apps away from prying eyes. It’s locked independently from the lockscreen – one can use a fingerprint, the other an iris. You can also install two copies of an app – one in plain sight and another one in the Secure folder. And you can hide the folder too, so people can snoop all they want and will not find anything suspicious.